Your Kingdom Come (Part 5)
I hope that one of the things we keep in mind as we look at the Sermon on the Mount is that these are not just more laws that we have to keep. There is a much deeper purpose than merely checking the list and making sure we are not stepping over the line. These are meant to be principles by which we live. The goal here is to be different people. That really shouldn't surprise us. This is what God has wanted for his people ever since the Garden; to be the examples of what it looks like for life to be done well.
We can see this in the lives of people like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but it may be easiest to see in God's dealing with Israel.
God rescues Israel out of Egypt and calls them to be a people who are different from the nations around them. This is evident at Sinai as God prepares Israel to receive the Law:
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel." (Exodus 19: 4-6 ESV emphasis mine)
Through their travels from Sinai to Canaan, God repeatedly instructs the Israelites to trust him, to obey him, and in doing so be different from the nations around them.
God still calls his people to be different, and the Sermon on the Mount is certainly no exception to this call. I think it is good to be reminded of that as we look at the next example that Jesus gives in what true righteousness looks like.
"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37 ESV)
There has been some confusion over the centuries about the words of Jesus here. Some have taken this to mean that a person should not take any kind of oath such as an oath of office, or swear to tell the truth in court. I appreciate their desire to do exactly what Jesus says and I think we could learn a lot from their example. However, in this case, it seems that Jesus is telling his followers that they should be people of integrity and that to swear something greater such as heaven, earth, or Jerusalem (or in our case on a stack of Bibles) should be unnecessary. We are to be people who can be counted on to tell the truth in all circumstances and not only when forced to under penalty of perjury.
As we think about the previous examples given by Jesus we are probably not all that tempted to kill someone. We are people who wouldn't even entertain committing adultery. But lying is so ingrained in our culture that we may easily take part in it.
I am really struck by the prevalence of lying. There was a time when political figures were ridiculed for not keeping promises. Now it is just expected and seen as normal. In fact, it is when politicians do exactly what they said they would that we are surprised. But lying is not just for the politician is it. Every day we are tempted to skirt the truth, to misrepresent ourselves, or just lie to get our way. But we are called to be different. We are to be people that can be counted on the be honest in every situation. We are called to be loving in every situation. These two things go hand in hand. Loving people means that we respect them enough to tell them the truth, and to be people they can trust.
Jesus calls us as his followers to be different from the world around us. This is an area in which we really have an opportunity, but we need to focus. We need to think and examine ourselves in this area and pay attention to see if we are people who can be counted on to be honest. May God bless us as we continue to be transformed into the image of Jesus.